Auto Racing: Rich Bickle announces exit from late-models at Grundy County Speedway
By Tony Baranek email@example.com July 25, 2013 10:40PM
Father and son had much to smile about Saturday night at Illiana Speedway after Paul Shafer Jr. won the late-model feature and Paul Shafer Sr. captured the Legends main. | Kim Kemperman~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: August 27, 2013 6:33AM
The Rich Bickle retirement tour has made its last stop in Morris.
Last stop, at least, on a regular basis.
The 52-year-old former NASCAR competitor from Edgerton, Wis., said Thursday he’s stepping out the late-model championship chase at Grundy County Speedway to concentrate on running at more tracks closer to his home.
Bickle, who’s fifth in the points and has one feature victory this season, said he no longer will be driving for Tony and Tammy Phillips, citing philosophical differences between one of his crew members and Tony Phillips.
“It’s just a situation where they had a difference of opinion on stuff,” Bickle said. “We got his car wrecked a couple, three weeks ago, and we’ve been using my car (since then).
“It’s just better that we stay good friends and end it that way than have any problems. There are no hard feelings. I just don’t want to come down there every Friday night with my equipment.”
Bickle said his decision to stop racing at Grundy had nothing to do with the track or the way it’s run.
“Oh, no,” he said. “If it wasn’t so far away from me it would be all right. We put a lot of effort into coming down there all year. I missed one night because I was in the hospital (with an illness).
“If we had that night back I’d probably be second in points. If I was up and in it I’d probably stay down there and run for the championship. But we have to miss one more night anyway for an ARCA race in Michigan on Friday night, so that kind of puts us out of the hunt.”
Bickle said he’ll likely be back at Grundy for the Sunday night season finale on Labor Day weekend.
Bickle finished fifth in the 100-lap ARCA Midwest Tour Wayne Carter Classic. He spent a lot of the race swapping sheet metal with Steve Wallace, son of NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Rusty Wallace.
“We were running pretty hard,” said Wallace, who finished seventh. “Rich is a great race car driver, man. He’s awesome. He’s hard-headed like I am, and he’s had a lot of laps around here.”
With Bickle on the high side and Wallace on the bottom, they had more than a few occasions where their lines blended. And, of course, their interpretation of who was right and who was wrong differed.
“He about spun me out three times,” Bickle said. “And the third time down the middle of the back straightaway he totally had me sideways. I’m against the wall and he knocks the (heck) out of me.
“It just ticked me off. After the third time he got into me I was, ‘You know what, dude? It was just after a restart. You don’t have to run over people.’ I don’t know. I guess it’s a Southern driving mentality against a Northern mentality.”
“I felt like he didn’t give me enough room,” Wallace said. “I didn’t mean to get into him. But we came off of 2 and I was as low as I could go. And he kept coming down the track. I didn’t have anything I could do. Then when we went into 3 he drove me into the grass. That was another thing.
“He got mad and flipped me off and all that stuff. I got back underneath him … (but) if I would have passed him he would have wrecked me, so it was just one of those deals to know what you’ve got. Hey, he’s awesome. It was just hard, short-track racing.”
The Bobby Gash, Landry Potter and John Nutley thrill show, otherwise known as the first late-model heat Saturday at Illiana Speedway, saw more zigging and zagging than we’ve seen in a preliminary for quite some time.
“That’s the hardest heat race I’ve run in a while. For a $50 heat race, everybody sure wanted it bad,” the winner, Gash, said. “I think I’m prepping myself for Kankakee with my new dirt car.”
“I’m getting ready to make my debut at Kankakee Speedway,” Gash said, seeming to enjoy being a newsbreaker. “I’ve never been on dirt in my life. My dad wanted to go to the dirt track. So over the winter we went to Missouri and picked it up. Kenny Wallace drove it a couple of times.”
Dean Patterson had one of his better moments this season when he won the second late-model heat Saturday at Illiana. It came on a burst of speed on the outside groove on a restart after several laps trying to get a nose underneath Trevor Tichy.
“When he was in front of me it was just hard to pass because he was using up a lot of the track there,” Patterson said. “It was no big deal, but once I was able to get on the side of him I had a better restart and was able to roll.”
The Orland Park native dismissed the suggestion it’s been an up and down season.
“No, it’s been pretty much off,” he said, laughing. “I have only so much time to work on the car during the week. What it really needs is a lot more time and a lot more people. But we’re having fun, too.”